Lately, I have been making parts for stools while teaching or as a break from more complex pieces. The stools offer a wonderful opportunity to work out some ideas about process, surface and aesthetics without a massive investment of time. Below is a stool with curved legs made of white oak and a pine seat. The stretchers were split and shaved, dried and then chucked in the lathe to turn the tenons before shaving to a final shape. I rough turned the legs, let them air dry, steamed the lower portion and bent them. The next day I took them out of the forms and because they were previously air dried, they held the shape shown. I finished them with spokeshaves.
This stool is a first attempt at the project that I will be teaching at Arrowmont next March. My goal was to make an elegant yet simple piece that the class could complete in 5 days and still have the time to cover all the aspects of tool use and wood technology that goes into the piece. All of the surfaces, except the top of the seat, are defined by the tool marks that made them. Not only does this suit the hand tool focus of the class, but it also suits the final look of the piece and the process. I could turn a perfectly smooth leg, but the final result under the paint would be lifeless, and the probability of damaging it during bending would leave me sanding (not my favorite).
Below is a piece with a very different focus. This "perch" has a seat with a forward tilt. Normally, I use one at my computer where it is very comfortable for the working posture (mine is at the showroom and I am struggling to stay upright on a "normal" stool). This piece is finished without paint, which calls for a very different set of processes and results.
Normally, I find curly maple best suited for violins and the such. I find it a bit flashy for large pieces of furniture. But this little perch is small enough that a little flair is easily absorbed. In this case, I turned and oiled the legs on the lathe. My goal was to create a perfect surface with no tool marks visible to conflict with the glowing image of the wavy grain. I used a skew to achieve this level of finish because any sanding would dull the natural glow of the figure.
You'll also notice that the seat is carved without the sharp pommel that the painted stool has. When the grain of the seat is showing, I find that sharp points can make for distractingly active grain patterns. Of course this is a personal preference, but I generally find that I like to simplify seat designs when they are left unpainted.
Below is the footrest and leg of the painted stool. The toolmarks are easily visible. My goal, as with a lot of my painted curvy pieces, is to make it look like the chair grew that way. I find that the long facets, coupled with the color, look very natural.
Here is a close up of the curly maple leg on the perch. Its fun to touch it and discover it's smooth, even though the surface looks wavy.
As much as the final look of the piece drives these decisions, I find myself trying to work out solutions that leave me a clear (and fun) path to completing the piece. Whenever I find myself mired in sandpaper while building a chair, I know that it's time to take a step back, build a stool and find a different way.